Saturday June 24th 2017

“State Street”

City Lit Theater specializes in “literature Theatre” which means they take literary material and adapt it for the stage. They are currently premiering a new musical, “State Street” by Philip Lazebnik and Kingsley Day, a story that is loosely based on an event that took place in Chicago, in the days just before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the story of Crosby’s Opera House, which was lost in this blaze. Uranus H. Crosby ( played with great verve and energy by Matthew Keffer) a con-man, who kinds of reminds us og Harold Hill ( “Music Man”), but instead of selling a “boy’s band”, he is selling a dream of culture with his opera house. As the story goes, he does raise the money to open the Opera House and it fails. In order to repay those who funded the building, he offers to sell lottery tickets at $5 each and then he bought the building with his ill-gained dollars only to have it burn to the ground as a result of the Great Fire.

In this fable version of the story, with a large cast, many of whom play many roles, there are many select Chicago names and while Director Sheldon Patinkin tries to work his magic, the script and songs are not worthy of the talent that has been assembled. It has many ingredients from “The Music Man” including the four men who represent the chamber of commerce, Marshall Field(Robert Brady) , Francis Sherman ( Kevin Bishop), Peter Palmer (Harter Clingman) and  Samuel Nickerson ( Sean Knight, who also is a hoot as A.H. Lee) who do some great harmony. The main female character is Jennie Comstock ( the lovely Diane Mair) who comes to Chicago from Boston to live with her aunt , who it turns out runs a house of prostitution ( deftly handled by Patti Roeder, who is also hindered by the script). Jenny is as cliche as a young cultured girl can be and is swayed by the huckster Crosby, thinking him to be n honorable man. She has feelings for him and for a young employee at the Sherman House, one John Drake( cutely played by Matt Edmonds) who has one ambition – to open up his own hotel ( the Drake, of course).

There are all types of characters, many stereotypes of hookers, newspapermen, bar keeps, gamblers and of course, being Chicago gangsters ( who greet each other by shooting their guns, which made no sense at all). I do have to say, that this was an adventurous task, taking on a musical with this many characters on the small stage at the Historic Edgewater Presbyterian Church located at 1020 West Bryn Mawr ( just west of Sheridan Road and East of the Red Line,Bryn Mawr station). While this was not a side splitting comedy and the songs are far from memorable, there were some smooth dance numbers ( Choreography by Amy Uhl) and the fight choreography ( David Yondorf) was well done. Roger Wykes set and Liz Cooper’s lighting was very functional and Amy Hilber’s costumes worked.James Heatherly’s props were many and for the most part fit the action ( I for one do not care for fake beverages in a glass).

Again, this is not a show that will set the world on fire, but there are some excellent performances by Matt Rockwood, Ed Rutherford and Sarah Hayes in addition to those previously mentioned. This production is two plus hours and possibly could have been a bit stronger by cutting here and there. I saw a little of “Guys and Dolls”, any Gilbert and Sullivan production and of course as mentioned earlier,”The Music Man”. While I did not find this show to be what I had hoped for based on the stroy it is supposedly based on, there were many audience members who appeared to have a good time and be entertained and as I stated, there were some wonderful dance numbers and some enjoyable characters portrayed by an energetic cast.

“State Street” will continue through June 24th with performances as follows:

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $30 with some discounts-Seniors and students as well as groups. To reserve yours call 773-293-3682 or visit www.citylit.org

 

Parking in the area is metered ( until 9 p.m.) but you can valet park at Francesca’s Bryn Mawr ( across the street) or you can get discount parking t the Edgewater Beach Apartments, one block east of the theater.

To learn more visit the State Street page at www.theatreinchicgo.com

 

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